Jerry Kopel


How Tom Ferril poetry came to the statehouse rotunda

Every weekday, legislators, state employees, and hundreds of tourists walk through the rotunda on the first floor of the state capitol building. Legislators and state employees walk through, not really seeing anymore the larger than life murals dominating the circular walls. After all, how many times have you walked by a neighbor's house without really seeing it.

Tourists do stop, if only to study the pictures, but legislators should stop once in a while to read what is written. The poetry is by Thomas Hornsby Ferril, the greatest poet Colorado has ever produced, and whose subject matter written in the first panel and under the murals is what everyone is talking about for this coming November election: Water.

No matter which way you decide to vote on Referendum A, Ferril was right. "Here is a land where life is written in water."

According to a Gene Amole column in the Rocky Mountain News, Tom Ferril was at an all-male party celebrating artist Allen True's new studio in 1935, when hamburgers already ordered were delivered, and the banter turned to the subject of water.

As Ferril told Amole:

"I began drawing pictures on the hamburger sack, telling Allen (True) he could make murals out of them. He saved the sack and painted the murals. I had agreed to write the poetic texts.

"All eight murals were ready to go up in the rotunda in 1938. Allen had painted them in a greenhouse at City Park....So I got up early one morning and wrote all the poem at one sitting. The lettering was done by Pascal Quackenbush. When the government money ran out, the generous Boettchers footed the bill. The job was completed in 1940."

In turn, the last panel is a dedication to Charles Boettcher. I was told the amount donated was between $4,000 and $9,000, not a small sum in the 1930's. And no claim to immortality can be greater than to be part of the capitol rotunda.

Ferril, who died 15 years ago this October, received many literary awards for his work but never the deserved recognition of being a national poet, critics claiming "he was too western". His former home at 2123 Downing street in Denver, where he lived for 88 of his 92 years is a Landmark for Preservation site containing Ferril's life work.

Trial by Time, one of the many books of poetry by Ferril, and published in 1944, contains the poetry written on the rotunda.


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